One of the most profound comments on war and defence ever made was written toward the end of the first World War by Randolph Bourne: “War is the health of the State.” His observation turns conventional wisdom, that government — the State — exists to protect citizens, clean on its head; he is suggesting that in wartime, the State flourishes as in no other situation, extending its power and influence in sometimes irreversible ways and even commanding deep loyalty and obedience by those citizens.
The thought is that rather than striving always to avoid war, perhaps governments often seek war so as to increase their own popularity and/or power at home. That would certainly help explain why wars take place so very often.
Since the mid–1900s in the United States the government war function has been called the “Department of Defence” rather than that of “War.” Perhaps the new name makes it more palatable. By checking history it is possible to see what the most recent year in which America needed “defending” from an unprovoked attack by a foreign enemy:
- 1776: This can be argued, though in 1776 the United States was declared more than actually formed and technically the attack — on the arms cache in Concord, MA in 1775 for example — was made by soldiers of the ‘legitimate’ government of the day rather than a foreign one. Certainly the Revolutionary War was justified, but it is a little hard to call it an unprovoked foreign attack in the usual sense.
- 1812: In 1812 the British Royal Navy pirated American merchant shipping to force sailors to join it; a hostile act without question, but it was not on American soil and not part of a war the British Government initiated against the United States. It could, and should, have been handled by the merchant shippers — by arming their vessels, or hiring better–armed ones to accompany convoys. Instead, the United States Government took up their cause and turned the incidents into a full war. So it is very questionable whether there was an act of foreign aggression against the USA even in 1812.
- 1861: The Southern States wanted to secede from the Union, but they were not ‘foreign’ so the Civil War does not count for this purpose
- 1917: There was no unprovoked attack upon America by the German Government. The Feds had been openly assisting the British by supplying armaments, sometimes almost certainly hidden aboard passenger ships like the Lusitania, a British liner sunk in 1915 by a U–boat for that reason — but the war on Germany was initiated and declared in Washington, not Berlin.
- 1941: Pearl Harbour is by far the best known, alleged ‘unprovoked attack’ on the America, on 7 December 1941. In fact, President Roosevelt had been striving to get America involved in the second World War for several years, against opposition by a huge majority of public opinion; and he deliberately provoked the Pearl attack by cutting off, in July 1941, supplies of oil and metal to Japan. So no, Pearl was in no way unprovoked — or even unexpected.
- 2001: One of the most scandalous aspects of 11 September is that not on that day or since, has any serious explanation been offered by the United States Government as to why the Muslim fanatics wrought so much havoc. That failure obscures the key issue of whether or not the attack was provoked, and so makes it hard to answer this question. From other sources, two motives appear likely: The fanatics desire to dominate the Muslim world politically and so impress Muslim opinion by successfully attacking the world’s greatest superpower; and they are outraged by its repeated disregard of Muslims over sixty years, and so take revenge. In both of these, it is clear that the United States and the West generally is held in contempt and hatred, because of its unwavering support for the State, not the people but the political State, of Israel — and hostility to Islam. That being so, it is hard to see the 11 September attacks as unprovoked; they were provoked systematically, over six decades.
Those years are the most obvious times when America was apparently in peril, and the striking thing about the answers is that there is not a single case among them when there was a clear, unambiguous, unprovoked attack or threat of one. This therefore raises the question: Why is a “Defence” function needed? Was Randolph Bourne right — are the Feds in the business of initiating war, rather than preventing it?
The most popular American war was second World War — after it had been so deceptively started, by Roosevelt. Everyone was deceived into thinking Japan had mounted a wicked, surprise attack and desire for revenge was almost universal; Hitler obliged Roosevelt by declaring war on the United States shortly afterward, and so the stage was set for the deadly drama that ended in Berlin and Nagasaki four years later. Roosevelt, though he did not live to see it, achieved his evident ambition to place the United States in a world–dominating position, which it still retains; history — being always written by the victor — uses the savage murder of millions of Jews as its “justification” — even though in 1941 no large–scale death camps had even been built and even though Roosevelt had turned back a shipload of Jewish refugees in 1939 when they applied for asylum in the United States.
Popular it may have been; but it was as devastating as all other wars, and wholly needless from Americans’ point of view. Had FDR not aggravated Japan in July 1941 there would have been no Pearl Harbour; absent Pearl, the 80% of Americans opposed to intervention in Europe would have prevailed; absent United States intervention or the prospect of it Britain would have had to reach an accommodation with Germany such as Hitler repeatedly sought; absent that Western Front Hitler would almost certainly have prevailed over the Soviet Union and a German–dominated peace, of sorts, would have been restored in Europe. That would have been dreadful, of course, but it is quite possible that Jews would have been allowed to emigrate — as they were actually, through 1940 — rather than be murdered; and it is certain that the horrendous death toll of about 65 million human beings would never have been suffered.
So much for the so–called “good war” that took over 400,000 American lives. Some of the non–defensive American wars since 1900 are as follows:
- Spanish–American War 1898–1902
- Philippine–American War 1899–1901
- Mexico Intervention, 1914–17
- Mexico Intervention again, 1918
- Soviet Union Intervention, 1918
- World War I 1917–18
- World War II 1941–45
- Korean War 1950–53
- Vietnam War 1964–75
- Iran Hostage Rescue Attempt, 1980
- Grenada Invasion, 1983
- Panama Invasion 1989
- Gulf War 1991
- Haiti Invasion 1994
- Kosovo Intervention 1999
- Afghan War 2001–
- Iraq War 2003–
In all these cases the Feds created an apparent “justification” for war which the population swallowed — at least for a while. Sometimes the government resorted to outright fraud to create that support, as in the case of Pearl Harbour and the Gulf of Tonkin. Usually, support evaporated when the promises of easy victory failed to materialise and as the body bags came home.
Conclusion so far: Government involves people in wars large or small every few years, without any defensive need.
Why governments wage war
So it is not to defend the people, as they claim; that is clear from the beginning. Why, then, is war waged? A broad examination of history can reveal the reason:
- To distract public attention from domestic policy failures and increase dependency upon government. This is a Grade A reason for warmongering. Germany’s Bismarck was one of the greatest practitioners, in the 1870s; Roosevelt was probably the greatest ever. From 1932 through 1941 he had presided over a miserable and prolonged Depression, actually caused by his own interventions; the 1929 Stock Market crash would have been shaken off by the economy like all its predecessors but for those interventions and those of his predecessor. His government had run out of fresh ideas to stimulate the economy and picked a major war as a way to deflect criticism. The deceit was brilliantly performed, and as everyone got back to work the illusion of prosperity prevailed. Actual prosperity did not return until 1947, after government spending, as a fraction of the Nation’s product, fell off a cliff.
- To extend the territory they govern or control. This is the main reason, going back to the dawn of recorded history — and beyond, if Oppenheimer’s speculation about the origin of the State is correct. A group of people settle and farm some land and prosper. Marauders, preferring to steal than to work, invade and over–run the area by force, then take part of the produce in exchange for ‘protection services’ from other alleged marauders. Then they wage further war on neighbouring settlements and tribes, until something like a Nation is formed for them to govern. Territorial acquisition was behind every war until the mid–1900s, by which time the root source of wealth had changed from land to other resources and the picture became more complex.
- To increase their degree of control over ‘their’ citizens. This is always one key result of waging war, and in recent decades has probably become the main one. As public perception of the uselessness of government has gradually increased — most recently thanks to the way the internet has decentralised the spread of news and views — it has become urgent, from the rulers’ view, to keep tight control. In both World Wars, bureaucrats never had it so good. They were able to rule the whole population with iron fists; production was to be such and so, prices were to lie within these specified limits, those resources were to be rationed, free speech was to be curtailed, and individual choice was to be suppressed. Never has this been more obvious than the period following 11 September 2001, when the ‘Patriot Act’, clearly pre–written and kept ready for eventual use, was rushed into law with disgusting haste by a Congress that did not even pause to read it. No wonder do politicians and their media parrots relish this prospect of ‘endless war’ against an ephemeral enemy called ‘terrorism’. No wonder did those media rush to say on 11 September — before many of us had figured out what they might mean — that “this changes everything.”
- To channel huge windfall profits into the hands of their friends in the ‘defence’ industry. As equipment is destroyed in war, it needs replacing; ‘defence’ contractors enjoy a boom. Johnson and his cronies made billions out of the Vietnam War, for example; Halliburton is said to be doing very well out of the one in Iraq.
- To clear the way for global trade, dominated by companies they favour. Though probably not the principal reason, this too is correct — or at least, it answers the ‘cui bono?’ question, that is, who ended up better off? The aftermath of the first and second World Wars are two cases in point; American–led trade swept the world after those conflicts, for other nations were deep in debt to Uncle and the United States Dollar was the most stable currency around.
A pretty sordid group of motives, right? And a sordid bunch of murderers whom it motivates, and a sordid and revolting activity war is, once one’s attention passes from the marching bands and smart uniforms and fictions about “patriotism” and “glory” and “honour”. There is nothing patriotic or glorious or honourable about slaughtering people one has never met, and with whom one has no quarrel, merely because one is so ordered by government.
Nor is there anything but squalor about the inevitable outcome. In many American towns and hundreds of European ones, there are monuments to the War Dead with the Latin motto engraved: “Dulce et Decorum Est, Pro Patria Mori.” It looks better in Latin, for readers may think it some noble sentiment, too grand to be expressed in mere, vulgar English; and so they swallow it more easily. Translation: “It is a sweet and noble thing, to die for one’s country.”
As any combat veteran will confirm, a comrade dying in agony with their intestines hanging out is neither sweet nor noble; this commonplace inscription must therefore rank as one of the greatest lies that governments ever tell.
Conclusion so far: The “garbage in” is to expect a government to guard the peace; the “garbage out” is an endless stream of war, destruction, misery, and death.
Defence in a free society
When government is replaced by a market and society becomes free, how will it best be defended against those who wish it ill? The key point to grasp is that a free–market society is not like a “country”, that is, it is not a nation ruled by a government. It consists only of a large number of individuals, joined only by explicit, voluntary contracts among them. Therefore, there is no such thing as a “defensive need” for that non–country. Instead, there are millions of individual defensive needs — defence against foreseeable aggressors. A free–market justice industry would rapidly develop to meet the market demand for justice services, and those would probably include defence services such as night–watch and intruder–alarm response services — of which many already exist — and that such might be allied with an insurance industry for the most efficient way to restore a damaged individual.
Are there other threats? Possibly; a foreign government might observe the immensely high standard of living in a neighbouring free–market society, and consider invasion so as to obtain some loot. In essence according to Oppenheimer, that is how governments arose originally. The question of defence against that reduces to the question of how to deter such a government; how to demotivate it, to turn its greedy eyes in some other direction.
It is possible that that insurance and protection industry would evolve in a way to provide the service of defence against foreign aggressors, but perhaps more likely the one–word solution would rather be a “porcupine.”
Today, if one nation–state envies a neighbour, its government’s calculation is: How much territory and resources can we gain by invasion, and for what cost? There is a cost–benefit reckoning, just as might be done by any intelligent bunch of thieves. The calculation will count the neighbour’s army, estimate its resolve, observe who rules it, and what popular support they enjoy. And if they reckon they can defeat that army and quickly obtain a surrender from that leader and submit the population to their purposes, they will — like Hitler did regarding France in 1940 — launch a blitzkrieg and conquer the once–proud neighbour in six weeks flat, knowing its military to be ill–prepared and unimaginative and its leaders to be deeply divided and ill–supported.
But if the neighbour has no leader, nor any organised military force but “just” one hundred million households that are well–armed and determined to remain individually free of any government control, they will see it as a porcupine and stay away. How, they will ask their generals, will you suppress that many snipers for whom no leader can negotiate a surrender? And they will not know the answer. Instead, they will wonder how to maintain morale when every night, their soldiers are being shot in the back and every day, their vehicles are being blown up by improvised explosive devices. In fact, they may point to Iraq, as a situation into which they never want to be sent; for while the Iraqi insurgents have nothing in common with a market society they do share this: They amount to a resolute, decentralised set of people determined not to be ruled by a foreign, invading army!
An alternative way in which a free society might arrange an effective deterrent would be that of nonviolent resistance. In this scenario members of the society simply let it be known that if anyone sets up in business as their “government” they will ignore its commands. What, exactly, can those commanders then do? They may round up some at random and kill them; such was done by Nazi occupiers in Europe during the second World War. Still, if such brutality had no effect and still nobody obeyed, the conqueror would have to either kill everyone or withdraw; either way, they lose. There is no way to impose a government on a society that does not want one! It is a perceptive insight.
That being so and with such examples before them, the high probability is that no invasion will occur. And if someone miscalculates and invades anyway, out may come the shotguns, rifles, rocket launchers, and mortars and no victory will ever be achieved and eventually, the invader will realise that costs far exceed benefits and they will find an excuse to go back home. Extra reason: There was nobody who could negotiate a surrender, a submission; and for that matter there was no machinery for collecting taxes from the productive population and handing them over to the conqueror. In short: Because there was no government.